Worker Readies for Spring Cleaning
Dorm Crew employee tackles toilets, showers for competitive wage
Snapping on her rubber gloves—the job would be “pretty gross” without them, she admits—she sprays on Mur-Kil (Dorm Crew’s disinfectant of choice), dips the sponge in the bowl, and gives the porcelain a scrub, finishing up with a last swipe, rinse, and flush. Although she has just achieved in five minutes what some of her accomplished fellow classmates will go four years without doing, she waxes philosophical about the experience.
“It definitely requires that you kind of get over yourself about certain aspects,” Beltran says. “It’s rather relaxing.”
Beltran is one of approximately 120 workers that are employed with Dorm Crew term-time, and she will join about 400 students working Spring Clean-Up in the next few weeks, according to a Dorm Crew head captain, Robyn M. Orfitelli ’06.
Beltran is also one of 17 trial captains this year who are supervising crews at Spring Clean-Up, during which they will be considered for full captain positions come fall.
Dorm Crew—a student-managed division of Harvard’s Facilities Maintenance Operations—is Harvard’s headquarters for cleaning and other maintenance functions. During the term, Orfitelli says Dorm Crew must keep cleaning supplies in stock and organize them; it also deals with superintendents, deans, and Yard Ops in addition to handling its own taxes and payroll of over $1 million each year.
Besides serving as the main hub, Dorm Crew’s office in the basement of Weld Hall acts as a pit stop for freshmen bathroom supplies. Orfitelli estimates that on average the Dorm Crew office gives out 320 rolls of toilet paper every week. That’s 24,200 square feet of toilet paper every 7 days, enough to cover half a football field.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE YUCKY
When she’s cleaning, Beltran usually brings along her iPod or uses the time for reflection—most of the theses for her Expos papers this year came to her while she was working.
It’s not that she hasn’t experienced some setbacks during the last year. There was the time she accidentally flushed away her sponge and worried she was going to lose her job; there was the time she ran out of glass cleaner; there was the time when she was asked to dispose of a suspicious glob in a bathtub.
“It was definitely not soap or anything that should be in the bathtub,” Beltran recalls.
Despite the significant yuck factor, students say that one of the appeals of Dorm Crew is that it is an efficiently-run organization.
Along with cleaning an estimated two-thirds of the private bathrooms on campus, the extra programs Dorm Crew runs are what make it the largest student-run fee-for-service organization in the world, according to Orfitelli.
“That’s pretty awesome for a bunch of 18- to 21-year-old people to be doing,” Orfitelli says. “Given that it’s entirely student-run, [the organization] is extraordinarily professional and streamlined.”
It was the possibility of advancement in such an organization that kept Beltran scrubbing sinks, showers, and toilets for an entire year.
“It’s grunt work, at first,” she says. “There’s no way I would be doing it, at least not past this year, if I knew that I wouldn’t have a chance to be promoted.”
Dorm Crew employees start out at $10.45 an hour, with the opportunity to earn $10.95 an hour after one year, and $11.10 an hour after three semesters. Captains and trial captains make $11.35 an hour.
Besides the high pay and opportunity for promotion, working for Dorm Crew seemed almost an ideal commitment for Beltran because of the flexible hours.
“I make my own hours, I can clean whenever I want, whenever I have time,” Beltran says.
Time management is key for Beltran, who divides her time between rehearsals with the Radcliffe Choral Society (five hours a week) and Mariachi Veritas (six hours a week), meeting with the freshman committee of the Catholic Student Association (one hour a week), as well as squeezing in five hours a week for her other job, serving lunch at the Signet Society.
Beltran is not the only student who insists that the process of cleaning out a stranger’s bathroom is relatively painless in light of the perks of the job.
“Dorm Crew has got to be the most flexible job on the planet, or at least, here at Harvard,” says Stefan A. Zebrowski-Rubin ’08, who was working six to 10 hours a week for Dorm Crew before he was hired for Let’s Go and quit. “Come in when you can. Do you as many hours as you can. It’s really up to you.”
But it was exactly that openness to the job that repelled Michael I. Levin-Gesundheit ’08.
“Without a set schedule, I found it very hard to make myself clean bathrooms,” says Levin-Gesundheit, a former wet worker—one who cleans bathrooms—who worked only two days before looking for another job that, as he says, wouldn’t require him to take a shower afterward. Despite considering custodial work to be “an important skill” and wanting to learn, Levin-Gesundheit wound up behind a library desk.
Dorm Crew workers say they have found that they are working against somewhat of a stigma.
Jordan C. Ford ’08, who will also serve as a trial captain at Spring Clean-Up, says that the worst aspect of Dorm Crew is “having to explain to people back home that I clean bathrooms for a living.”
Zebrowski-Rubin agrees that the day-to-day experience of Dorm Crew employees can be somewhat raw.
“When everything else is so sugar-coated with Harvard-ness, Dorm Crew just sort of slaps you in the face a little. We’re cleaning bathrooms, there’s no way around it,” Zebrowski-Rubin says.
However, Beltran says she realized before she got involved in Dorm Crew that the job wouldn’t be glamorous.
“I never thought I’d be cleaning bathrooms, let alone like it, but I actually get a lot of satisfaction from it that I don’t think I would personally get from a library job,” Beltran says.
SKILLS FOR LIFE
During Spring Clean-Up, Beltran and the other captains will have to hire and organize 400 employees, who will clean student rooms, occasionally throwing out squatters who have failed to clear out in time.
“Think about cleaning almost every single student dorm on campus in one week,” Orfitelli says of the first week of Spring Clean-Up.
A separate linen crew makes sure there are plenty of bedsheets for the alumni flocking to campus for reunions, a team called the Al Powers crew works to set up and tear down all the chairs and tables for events, and those groups don’t include the army of bellhops, bartenders, and baby-sitters that Dorm Crew will employ for reunions.
It’s a significant workload for Dorm Crew captains to manage, since they also coordinate storage for all the Houses as well as temporary housing for over 1,000 students that are staying at Harvard through Commencement.
Back in Adams, Beltran is sharing a year’s worth of cleaning-themed aphorisms she’s collected while working for Dorm Crew.
When she attacks the trouble spots on a sink—between the steel and the porcelain—with a grout brush and green sponge, she says, “It’s probably the easiest [part] to do but the hardest to do well.”
When she spritzes all the fixtures of the bath and sinks with glass cleaner, she stresses the significance of this procedure: “It really is the most important step, I think—it makes everything shine.” When she splashes water down the sides of the shower and onto the floor, she shrugs it off casually and remarks, “We’re called wet workers for a reason.”
Although she’s let Orange-Solve, Dorm Crew’s chosen multipurpose de-greaser, soak in the walls, she points out that there is not a lot of grime in this particular bathroom to wipe away from the shower walls.
“That’s because I used to work Dorm Crew, and I rinse off the shower when I’m done,” chimes in Ethan L. Murray ’05 from the common room of his senior suite. Some Dorm Crew skills stay with you for life.
—Staff writer Heloisa L. Nogueira can be reached at email@example.com.